This is the fourth of eight excerpts we will be offering from Lauren Rosenberg’s The Desire for Literacy: Writing in the Lives of Adult Learners, a volume in the CCCC Studies in Writing and Rhetoric Series. We’ll be offering a new excerpt each Monday. In this book, Dr. Rosenberg shares her interviews with various people who sought literacy during adulthood.
Like everyone I meet at Read/Write/Now, Violeta describes acquisition of literacy as access to school:
My mother never liked to put me in school in Puerto Rico. I don’t know why. When I was sixteen, and then I decide to go. But it was little bit, not too much. I be in school more in New York, in Manhattan. My mother, we live over there when we get over there. My mother was putting me only in an English, like third grade. And then she has to go back to Puerto Rico, taking me out in the—. And then when we get to Puerto Rico, I never have school. That’s confuse me. A lot.
Confusion over schooling: When can you have it? When can you not? School was inconsistently available. Everyone I talked with recalled school as a place she or he had access to only sometimes. Violeta remembers being confused; Lee Ann remembers feeling unable to concentrate; Chief will think of school as a wonderful place where he wished he could spend his days, while George will associate schooling with hunger and terrible weather. No matter the conditions of their individual lives, school was always out of reach. And even if you could go one day, the opportunity to learn might be taken away the next.
Since Violeta lives far from most of her relatives, maintaining her relationships with them matters a lot. Writing and reading letters on her own is one of her main reasons for pursuing literacy. When other people read your mail for you, they know the intimate news of your life before you do. Not knowing how to read, she explains:
It’s very sad for me. And then I ask to the neighbor to read my letter when it was convenient, you know what I mean? The other people know before they know me before go in that letter, you know? That’s making me turn to over here to learn. I want to read my own letter and everything.
Violeta says she wants to read her letters. She wants to write in her portfolio, which she refers to as her “life book.” She wants to show her children that she can “depend about myself” and does not need the help of others. I hear her express so much desire that is motivating her to learn and to study, and that yearning grows as she continues to pursue what she wants for herself.
I want to learn more, like I say before. I can help my kid with the homework, paper reading, and I do a mom and dad [meaning she is a single mother], and I running the house and everything. And I has to learn, you know, read paper, like my bill was on time, before I don’t know how to read my appointment, the bill. Or the teacher would send a letter for me about the children home school now. I learning about how to read it, how to depend about myself. . . . I know how to read the letter now. ’Bout my appointment, how I couldn’t read my appointment. When I going to do some appointment, they giving me some paper to sign, I want to learn what kind of paper did I put my sign? To read exactly. That’s why one of the reason that I do this. Yup.
All eight of our excerpts from this book will be added here.